Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) was a brilliant young nobleman from Mirandola near Ferrara. He attended the University of Ferrara and then went to Florence where he entered the circle of the Medici and lived in the Palazzo Medici for some years. While there he was a friend of two future Medici popes, Giovanni de’ Medici (Leo X) and Giulio de’ Medici (Clement VII) and the young Michelangelo. Among his many writings his most admired is his Oration on the Dignity of Man which is often called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance” with its celebration of the beauty and dignity of the human being (think of Michelangelo’s David). The Oration seems a total reversal of the Medieval vision in which the human being and the human world is irrevocably damaged by sin.
|1387||Milan conquers Verona. Milan on the march. Look out Florence!|
|1390||Siena and Pisa join Milan alliance. Florence increasingly isolated.|
|1399||Siena and Perugia formally turns gov over to Visconti of Milan. Florence being surrounded.|
|1400||Milan close to conquering all of northern Italy. Flo independence at risk.|
|1401||Competition for Bronze doors of Baptistery, Florence. Brunelleschi vs Ghiberti. Subject of Sacrifice of Isaac. Ghiberti wins.|
|1402||(Jun) Milan defeats Florence-Bologna army. All north Italy open for Milan. (Sep) Gian Galleazzo Visconti ruler of Milan dies. Florence independence saved.|
|1404||Government of Florence orders guilds to get moving. Guilds rush to complete their statues for Orsanmichele.|
|1408||Donatello's first major work: David (marble) now in Bargello. Birth of Alessandra Macinghi degli Strozzi (d. 1471)|
|1409||Brunelleschi and Donatello go to Rome, Study the Roman ruins. They make extensive drawings of Pantheon, bring home to use in Duomo.|
|1413||Donatello's St Mark for Orsanmichele (Flo), one of most influential works of sculpture in whole of Ren.|
|1413||Nanni di Banco, sculptor: Four Martyrs for Orsanmichele (Flo).|
|1416||Ghiberti: St John the Baptist for Orsanmichele (Flo).|
|1417||Donatello: St George for Orsanmichele (Flo).|
|1422||Alessandra Macinghi marries Matteo degli Strozzi. Matteo a member of one of the most important and powerful families in Florence.|
|1420||Brunelleschi appointed: architect for dome of Cathedral of Flo.|
|1425||Brunelleschi: first painting in West using math "perspective." Masaccio: Brancacci Chapel, Santa Carmine, Florence.|
|1427||Masaccio: "Trinity" painted in Santa Maria Novella (Flo).|
|1429||Ghiberti: Second set of doors for Baptistry ("Gates of Paradise")|
|1430||Medici growing domination. After 1435 Medici triumphant in Florence until 1494.|
|1433||Enemies of Medici become temporarily dominant in the council of gov and send the head of Medici family, Cosimo de' Medici, into exile (he goes to Venice) During this next year, 1433-1434, a furious fight breaks out within Florentine political circles, pro- and anti-Medici. In the fall of 1434, the Medici finally win.(Pope has been helping, Medici Bank very important for the papacy).|
|1434||Return of Cosimo de' Medici to Florence in triumph. The Medici now have complete control of the gov instruments for the next thirty years. Those who were part of the anti-Medici circle now pay the price and are exiled. Among the exiles are the Strozzi including Matteo Strozzi who is exiled to Pesaro. Wife Alessandra and children join him. Fra Angelico: "Descent from the Cross" (San Marco).|
|1435||Death of Matteo Strozzi in exile in Pesaro. His widow Alessandra returns to the Strozzi home in Florence with her children. Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting.|
|1439||International council of church, East-West, Pope-Patriarch, held in Florence under Brunelleschi's recently completed dome. Florence at center of world of religion and culture at this moment. Greeks bring 100s of precious texts with them and all Flo pressed into service copying during the Ecumenical Council.|
|1444||Build huge new Palazzo Medici (via Cavour) near San Lorenzo, right in the center of old Florence, demolish many other buildings to do it, biggest private palace to that time in Florence.|
|1447||Pope Nicholas V, Tuscan pal of the Medici elected to St Peter's chair.|
|1449||Birth of Lorenzo de' Medici who will take his family and his city to its highest point of cultural and political influence. The half century of his life is Florence's Golden Age.|
|1450||Piero della Francesca: "Baptism of Christ" (National Gallery).|
|1451||Birth of Christopher Columbus (Genoa). (d. 1506)|
|1454||Birth of Amerigo Vespucci in Florence. (d. 1512)|
|1464||Death of Cosimo de' Medici on Aug 1. Death of Cosimo throws the whole Medici apparatus into confusion. The political machine had been a very personal affair and now Cosimo's son Piero is faced with a crisis for which he is not prepared. He suffers with terrible gout and is often bedridden. The anti-Medici circles organize to overthrow Medici. Death of Pope Pius II, a great friend of the Medici.|
|1466||March: Death of Francesco Sforza, another friend of the Medici, Sept: Plot against the Medici collapses. Piero de' Medici prevails over his enemy Luca Pitti who had led the anti-Medici movement.|
|1469||December: Death of Piero de' Medici. Suddenly the leadership of the Medici machine falls into the hands of Lorenzo de' Medici, age 20. Lorenzo will dominate Florentine politics and culture for the next twenty-three years and will die at age forty-three in 1492 from the same desease that had killed his father: gout.|
|1471||Death of Alessandra degli Strozzi. (b. 1408)|
|1473||Birth of Nicolaus Copernicus in Poland. (d. 1543)|
|1475||Birth of Michelangelo. (d. 1564)|
|1478||(Apr 26) Pazzi Plot in Florence. Plot to assassinate Medici brothers and bring about revolution in Florence, kill Giuliano de' Medici in Cathedral during High Mass as he kneels at altar, but Lorenzo survives. Begins intense enmity between Florence and Papacy which had been in on the plot.|
|1482||Botticelli: "La Primavera" "Birth of Venus" (now in Uffizi).|
|1483||Birth of Raphael in Urbino. (d. 1520)|
|1492||Death of Lorenzo de' Medici (bad news for Florence). Columbus in Caribbean (cant call it "America"-not named yet, named later after Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine).|
|1494||King Charles VIII of France arrives Italy. Brings largest army into Italy since Roman times. (Nov)Florence: fall of Medici and ascendancy of Savonarola. (Nov)Death of Pico della Mirandola.|
|1498||(May) Execute Savonarola: Piazza della Signoria (marker still there).|
|1503||Death of Pope Alexander (Borgia). elect Julius II (patron of Michelangelo-Sistine).|
|1504||Michelangelo: completion of David, install Piazza della Signoria. Michelangelo goes to Rome (Sistine, Vatican). Raphael soon on way to Rome too (Stanze, Vatican). Leonardo working in Milan. The heroic days of Florentine Renaissance are over. Both Lippi and Botticelli dead by 1510.|
|1512||Completion of Sistine (Michelangelo) and Stanze (Raphael). Rome new art center of Italy, eclipse of Florence.|
|1513||Death of Pope Julius. Elect Medici (Giovanni de' Medici, childhood friend of Michelangelo) Pope Leo X, power of Medici now moves to Rome.Florence becomes a puppet of Rome.|
INTRODUCTORY NOTE FROM WILLIAM FREDLUND:
Here below you will find the first seven sections of the much longer "Oration" that runs to about 30 pages in many English translations. If you wish to read the whole "Oration" you can find it in an excellent translation in The Renaissance Philosophy of Man edited by Ernst Cassirer (University of Chicago Press, 1948). This passage presented here below was originally printed in a reader for a World Civilization course at Washington State University and I am grateful to Paul Brians for its availability.
HERE BEGINS PICO'S TEXT:
I once read that Abdala the Muslim, when asked what was most worthy of awe and wonder in this theater of the world, answered, "There is nothing to see more wonderful than man!" Hermes Trismegistus (1) concurs with this opinion: "A great miracle, Asclepius, is man!" However, when I began to consider the reasons for these opinions, all these reasons given for the magnificence of human nature failed to convince me: that man is the intermediary between creatures, close to the gods, master of all the lower creatures, with the sharpness of his senses, the acuity of his reason, and the brilliance of his intelligence the interpreter of nature, the nodal point between eternity and time, and, as the Persians say, the intimate bond or marriage song of the world, just a little lower than angels as David tells us. (2) I concede these are magnificent reasons, but they do not seem to go to the heart of the matter, that is, those reasons which truly claim admiration. For, if these are all the reasons we can come up with, why should we not admire angels more than we do ourselves? After thinking a long time, I have figured out why man is the most fortunate of all creatures and as a result worthy of the highest admiration and earning his rank on the chain of being, a rank to be envied not merely by the beasts but by the stars themselves and by the spiritual natures beyond and above this world. This miracle goes past faith and wonder. And why not? It is for this reason that man is rightfully named a magnificent miracle and a wondrous creation.
What is this rank on the chain of being? God the Father, Supreme Architect of the Universe, built this home, this universe we see all around us, a venerable temple of his godhead, through the sublime laws of his ineffable Mind. The expanse above the heavens he decorated with Intelligences, the spheres of heaven with living, eternal souls. The scabrous and dirty lower worlds he filled with animals of every kind. However, when the work was finished, the Great Artisan desired that there be some creature to think on the plan of his great work, and love its infinite beauty, and stand in awe at its immenseness. Therefore, when all was finished, as Moses and Timaeus tell us, He began to think about the creation of man. But he had no Archetype from which to fashion some new child, nor could he find in his vast treasure-houses anything which He might give to His new son, nor did the universe contain a single place from which the whole of creation might be surveyed. All was perfected, all created things stood in their proper place, the highest things in the highest places, the midmost things in the midmost places, and the lowest things in the lowest places. But God the Father would not fail, exhausted and defeated, in this last creative act. God's wisdom would not falter for lack of counsel in this need. God's love would not permit that he whose duty it was to praise God's creation should be forced to condemn himself as a creation of God.
Finally, the Great Artisan mandated that this creature who would receive nothing proper to himself shall have joint possession of whatever nature had been given to any other creature. He made man a creature of indeterminate and indifferent nature, and, placing him in the middle of the world, said to him "Adam, we give you no fixed place to live, no form that is peculiar to you, nor any function that is yours alone. According to your desires and judgment, you will have and possess whatever place to live, whatever form, and whatever functions you yourself choose. All other things have a limited and fixed nature prescribed and bounded by our laws. You, with no limit or no bound, may choose for yourself the limits and bounds of your nature. We have placed you at the world's center so that you may survey everything else in the world. We have made you neither of heavenly nor of earthly stuff, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with free choice and dignity, you may fashion yourself into whatever form you choose. To you is granted the power of degrading yourself into the lower forms of life, the beasts, and to you is granted the power, contained in your intellect and judgment, to be reborn into the higher forms, the divine."
Imagine! The great generosity of God! The happiness of man! To man it is allowed to be whatever he chooses to be! As soon as an animal is born, it brings out of its mother's womb all that it will ever possess. Spiritual beings from the beginning become what they are to be for all eternity. Man, when he entered life, the Father gave the seeds of every kind and every way of life possible. Whatever seeds each man sows and cultivates will grow and bear him their proper fruit. If these seeds are vegetative, he will be like a plant. If these seeds are sensitive, he will be like an animal. If these seeds are intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God. And if, satisfied with no created thing, he removes himself to the center of his own unity, his spiritual soul, united with God, alone in the darkness of God, who is above all things, he will surpass every created thing. Who could not help but admire this great shape-shifter? In fact, how could one admire anything else?
For the mystic philosophy of the Hebrews transforms Enoch into an angel called "Mal'akh Adonay Shebaoth," and sometimes transforms other humans into different sorts of divine beings. The Pythagoreans abuse villainous men by having them reborn as animals and, according to Empedocles, even plants. Muhammed also said frequently, "Those who deviate from the heavenly law become animals." Bark does not make a plant a plant, rather its senseless and mindless nature does. The hide does not make an animal an animal, but rather its irrational but sensitive soul. The spherical form does not make the heavens the heavens, rather their unchanging order. It is not a lack of body that makes an angel an angel, rather it is his spiritual intelligence. If you see a person totally subject to his appetites, crawling miserably on the ground, you are looking at a plant, not a man. If you see a person blinded by empty illusions and images, and made soft by their tender beguilements, completely subject to his senses, you are looking at an animal, not a man. If you see a philosopher judging things through his reason, admire and follow him: he is from heaven, not the earth. If you see a person living in deep contemplation, unaware of his body and dwelling in the inmost reaches of his mind, he is neither from heaven nor earth, he is divinity clothed in flesh.
Who would not admire man, who is called by Moses (3) and the Gospels "all flesh" and "every creature," because he fashions and transforms himself into any fleshly form and assumes the character of any creature whatsoever? For this reason, Euanthes the Persian in his description of Chaldaean theology, writes that man has no inborn, proper form, but that many things that humans resemble are outside and foreign to them, from which arises the Chaldaean saying: "Hanorish tharah sharinas": "Man is multitudinous, varied, and ever changing." Why do I emphasize this? Considering that we are born with this condition, that is, that we can become whatever we choose to become, we need to understand that we must take earnest care about this, so that it will never be said to our disadvantage that we were born to a privileged position but failed to realize it and became animals and senseless beasts. Instead, the saying of Asaph the prophet should be said of us, "You are all angels of the Most High." Above all, we should not make that freedom of choice God gave us into something harmful, for it was intended to be to our advantage. Let a holy ambition enter into our souls; let us not be content with mediocrity, but rather strive after the highest and expend all our strength in achieving it.
Let us disdain earthly things, and despise the things of heaven, and, judging little of what is in the world, fly to the court beyond the world and next to God. In that court, as the mystic writings tell us, are the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones (4) in the foremost places; let us not even yield place to them, the highest of the angelic orders, and not be content with a lower place, imitate them in all their glory and dignity. If we choose to, we will not be second to them in anything.
Translated by Richard Hooker
FOOTNOTES: (1) This mystical Egyptian writer, much quoted by Renaissance alchemists, probably lived in the 2nd-3rd century. (2) Psalms 8:5. (3) Moses was reputed to have written the first five books of the Bible. (4) These are the three highest orders of angels in the medieval and Renaissance theory of angelic hierarchy which is, in descending order, Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Powers, Angels, Archangels.
The above is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 1, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Michael Myers Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by American Heritage Custom Books. The reader was created for use in the World Civilization course at Washington State University, but material on this page may be used for educational purposes by permission of the editor-in-chief: Paul Brians Department of English Washington State University Pullman 99164-5020